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Plans for a medical call-up exposed
Preparing for a new draft?

October 29, 2004 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON looks at the possible plans for a draft--and the plight of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

"WE'RE NOT going to have a draft so long as I'm the president." George W. Bush sounded like the Wizard of Oz in full "pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain" mode when he tried to deflect attention away from rumors of a new military draft.

But recent news reports show that people are right to be worried. For example, a New York Times article this month reported that the Selective Service has been updating contingency plans for a mandatory call-up of medical personnel--including doctors, nurses and others--because of a looming shortage of health-care workers in the military.

In a secret report written over the summer, a contractor hired by the Pentagon described how to pull off such a draft--including how the military could sway public opinion in its favor. Still, the report warned, steps to implement such a draft should be limited because "overtures from Selective Service to the medical community will be seen as precursors to a draft."

Selective Service officials immediately tried to downplay the idea. "The plan is on the shelf and will remain there unless Congress and the president decide that it's needed and direct us to carry it out," Richard Flahavan, a spokesman for the Selective Service System, told the Times. But in a recent article in the Wisconsin Medical Journal, Col. Roger Lalich, a senior physician in the Army National Guard, said, "A physician draft is the most likely conscription into the military in the near future."

Because this is an election year, both parties insist that a draft is a last resort, and both Bush and Kerry have repeatedly said they won't bring back conscription--though Democratic lawmakers in Congress have been more ready to associate themselves with floated proposals for a call-up.

But whoever is sitting in the White House in January may not have a choice. With U.S. casualty rates in Iraq running in the thousands and National Guard units overextended, the military is already stretched thin. This year, the National Guard fell short of its recruitment goal by 10 percent--the first time since 1994 that it missed its target.

Add to that the fact that the Army admitted last week that more than 800 "Individual Ready Reservists"--former soldiers who have left the military, but who can be recalled--have failed to comply with Army orders to get back in uniform and report for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's more than one-third of the total of the ready reservists who had been told to report to a mobilization station by October 17.

With both candidates committed to continuing the occupation of Iraq and expanding the "war on terror," something has to give. Don't believe the hype: The threat of a new draft is very real.

Mutiny shows growing anger

BUSH CLAIMS that we don't need a new draft because "the all-volunteer Army is working."

Working? Maybe Bush should explain to 18 soldiers of the 343rd Army Reserve Quartermaster Company how well the "all-volunteer Army" is working.

The 18 could still face disciplinary action for refusing an order to deliver fuel to Taji, a city 200 miles from their base--because the tanker trucks they were supposed to drive had no armor and were badly in need of repairs, and there was to be no armed escort for the convoy. After their refusal, the soldiers were put under armed guard and confined to tents outside their regular barracks.

The incident caused a worldwide uproar, and the military claimed that all the soldiers had been returned to duty--though at least five soldiers were quietly transferred to other units, and possible discharges and courts-martial are pending.

But while the military tries to downplay the revolt as an "isolated" incident, soldiers' families are refusing to keep quiet. "I know how the military can cover things up," Patricia McCook, a former Army reservist whose husband, Sgt. Larry McCook, is one of those who disobeyed, told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. "They are trying to say our husbands and the others were never arrested or detained. That's a lie. But this is something we are not going to let them sweep under the rug."

The soldiers of the 343rd were the first to make headlines for refusing orders, but their actions underscore the discontent that a growing number of soldiers feel about a war that was supposed to be over.

Like Boston Globe copy editor Bill Johnson, who, while serving a stint with the Rhode Island National Guard, gave a glimpse into daily horrors surrounding him in Baghdad. "Life for a soldier in Baghdad these days is permeated by peril," he wrote. "You survive the days with increased caution and even greater fatalism...Amid horrific scenes, Iraqis are trying to live life as normally as possible, and when we're off-duty, so do we. Some guys get up at 3 in the morning to watch the Red Sox on satellite TV. Many keep in touch with their wives and kids via telephone, instant messaging and Web cams--but the "how-are-you?" and "I-love-you" messages often omit the shuddering truth...What isn't heard amid the hail of mortar fire is growing anxiety and frustration. Some toss and turn at night; others are tormented by nightmares."

The only way this nightmare will stop--for Iraqis and U.S. soldiers alike--is for the U.S. to get out of Iraq.

"Drafted without a draft being implemented"

IF THEY can't recruit enough soldiers through the front door, the Army has no problems sucking them in with a backdoor draft.

As Socialist Worker went to press, a federal court had granted Army Capt. Jay Ferriola a temporary reprieve from being sent to Iraq. Ferriola resigned from the military in June after completing eight years of service--but that hasn't stopped the military from trying to force him back to Iraq.

Earlier this month, Ferriola received orders to report for active duty on October 25--for an 18-month mission to Iraq. "[W]hen he submitted his resignation, he gave it to his commanding officer, who signed off on the papers, and then submitted them," Ferriola's attorney, Stuart Slotnick, told the left-wing Democracy Now! radio program. "He turned in his gear. He stopped reporting to drill. He stopped being paid by the army, and he had not heard from the army. No one said, 'Where are you?' He's no longer part of the army. He entered into private life as a civilian."

Ferriola was forced to sue the government October 23, saying that his mobilization orders amounted to "illegal servitude"--and a federal court granted him a reprieve while the Army reviews his retirement request.

But other soldiers haven't been as lucky. Last month, a judge ruled that Todd Parrish, a former Army reservist from North Carolina, must report for active duty--despite the fact that Parrish says his Army commitment expired December 19, 2003, after four years of active duty and another four years in the reserves. Parrish even sent the Army a letter resigning his commission.

But incredibly, the military claims that because he failed to sign a resignation line on a letter asking for an update on his personal information, he's now eligible for call up. A judge agreed--and the Army had scheduled him to report for duty as of October 26. As Parrish told one reporter: "It was a life-altering experience when I read the orders to report to active duty. I felt like I was being drafted without a draft being instituted."

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